Religion News Service had an interesting story recently about atheists challenging Uncle Sam over nonprofit financial reporting.
It’s a pretty straightforward account:
Nonbelievers are challenging the Internal Revenue Service’s special exemptions for religious organizations in a federal court in Kentucky, saying churches and other religious groups should have the same financial rules as other nonprofit groups.
If they prevail, it will change the tax-exempt status of churches and other religious organizations, and require the same transparency of donors, salaries and other expenditures that secular nonprofits must currently meet.
So far, so good.
Then comes this quote:
“This is a very strong case,” said Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, a national advocacy group and lead plaintiff in the case. “It seems to be straight-up discrimination on the basis of religion.”
Wow, the public relations director and lead plaintiff thinks it’s “a very strong case.” I’m sorry, but that made me chuckle. He’s not exactly an unbiased source.
I kept reading:
The deeper I got into the story, the more I wondered if RNS would quote anyone besides the atheists.
The case centers around who must file IRS Form 990, an annual reporting statement that provides information on a group’s mission, programs and finances.
Current tax law requires all tax-exempt organizations to file a Form 990 financial report — except churches and church-related organizations. A few state, political and educational organizations are exempt as well if their annual revenues fall below certain amounts.
This means the IRS treats religious organizations differently than it does all other organizations, the suit holds. It claims the IRS policy is a violation of the First Amendment and the due process promised under the Fifth Amendment.
The answer: Not really.
Perhaps RNS felt like it satisfied its journalistic responsibility with this note:
IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
But given the broad complaints made about churches and church-related organizations, why not quote a religious source?
From that story:
Gaylor said the government should not give religious groups any special treatment.
But Eric Stanley, senior counsel of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defending Freedom, said the First Amendment does give churches and other religious groups special privileges.
He said that too much government regulation of churches would interfere with religious freedom.
I wish RNS had quoted Stanley or a similar source in its story. Including an opposing viewpoint in a story about a lawsuit certainly would improve the perception — and actual quality — of the journalism.
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